The air was electric with anticipation as Potter fans waited in the cavernous Palace Theatre auditorium for “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” the latest instalment from JK Rowling, to begin. They were not disappointed as the eighth tale was magnificently brought to life on stage. Quite distinct from the books or movie adaptations, it is a major theatrical work in its own right and has been co-devised by Rowling, with director John Tiffany and playwright Jack Thorne.
The play opens where the seventh and final 2007 book “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” left off. A grown up Harry and Ginny are at King’s Cross on platform 9 3/4, saying goodbye to their middle child Albus Potter, as he leaves for his first term at Hogwarts. Albus who hates being the son of a celebrity wizard is travelling with Rose, the daughter of Hermione and Ron Granger- Weasley. Also on the train is Scorpius, the son of Draco Malfoy who is also starting his first term at Wizard school. It is 19 years since Harry (now 37) fought Voldemort. Harry who has a day job at the Ministry of Magic is still struggling with the traumas of his childhood.Albus and Harry rarely see eye to eye, however both father and son have to put their differences aside to survive when the powers of darkness threaten the magical world again.
Since the play began Rowling has been urging viewers to “keep the secrets” so as not to spoil it’s plot surprises for future audiences. However without giving too much away I can say that knowledge of the fourth Potter book “The Goblet of Fire.” is the key to understanding the premise of “The Cursed Child.”
As with the final book this new adventure is staged in two parts and lasts over five hours. It seems like a lot to ask from it’s mainly young audience but “The Cursed Child” has a fairly complex lengthy narrative and splitting it into two actually adds to adds to the sense of an episodic adventure. As a testament to this most of the audience were eagerly sitting in their seats on the second night a good twenty minute before curtain up. Also due to nifty direction from John Tiffany both theatrical evenings seem to move faster than the Hogwarts Express.
Of course the teenage heroes from the original books are now grown up and have children of their own, and “The Cursed Child” looks at the complex issues of parenthood. Despite Harry being one of the world’s greatest wizards, this chapter shows that his skills as a father are far from magic.
The new story has enough twists and turns to keep the audience constantly on their toes. There are audible gasps from the viewers as new plot lines and surprises are revealed. The audience also take sharp intakes of breath at the fantastical special effects that sprinkle the production. Created by Jamie Harrison, wonderfully executed illusions ensure that characters seamlessly disappear into phone boxes, objects and witches really do seem to fly. It is technical theatre at its absolute best.
However the fully rounded script and solid performances from the entire cast ensure that the special effects are not the only mainstay of this piece. Jamie Parker completely embraces a grown up Harry who is tormented by his past, and Noma Dumezweni is perfectly cast as the ever practical Hermione. Sam Clemmett is convincing as the angst teenager Albus, and Anthony Boyle presents a very funny, quirky Scorpius. Several characters from the books also re-appear as cameos, and the ghost of Moaning Myrtle is played so brilliantly by Annabel Baldwin that she almost steals Part One. Steven Hoggett’s movement direction is mesmerising and Christine Jones’s gothic set is quite simply beautiful.
With Rowling as it’s backbone as the master of storytelling, the creative team for “The Cursed Child” have conjured up a groundbreaking dazzling alternative universe that is tailor made for the theatre.
One of the spell bounding legacies of the Potter books is that they had the alchemy to get children reading again. The script of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” has just been published, and has become the most ordered book of all time. Rowling wants the play to be performed all over the World, and as Potter fans strive to see this latest adventure perhaps “The Cursed Child” will introduce a whole a new generation to the enchantment of theatre.
Further tickets for “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”Part One and Two will be released on 4 August 2016 for performances through to 10 December 2017. Tickets: 0844 412 4656
Palace Theatre, 109-113 Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1D 5AY.
Review by Oliver Valentine.